Monday, March 30, 2009

Riding Lessons (March 27th, 2007) Minneapolis Star-Tribune

There are many reasons to move from one house to another: a job change, eminent domain, global warming, and horse riding lessons. Let me speak to the less obvious one. About fifteen years ago my wife and I attended a fund raiser for a local politician ( I’m not going to tell you which one because that would lead to all sorts of prejudicial thoughts). Because of our attendance we were eligible for the door prize. We didn’t win the door, but we did win free horse riding lessons. Politics has its consequences. We re-gifted this prize to our daughter, who I think was eight at the time.

The lessons went quite well. The horses responded to her and she was comfortable with them. “She’s a natural.” How long has she been riding?” were some of the comments I heard from spectators. But the one that changed my life was “You need to buy her a horse.” Well now, this was something to consider.

At that time we were living in a old house where the neighbors frowned upon things that make a country house a farm - things like letting your grass grow long, or sharing your yard with goats, geese, and horses. I, like most fathers, was, and continue to be tightly wound around my daughter’s smallest finger. So we moved.

The horse we bought for her was a tall, proud, seventeen year old Arabian mare named Fergie. Firey would have been more appropriate. She never liked me. The previous owners had trained her to respond to voice commands – everyone but mine. I thought maybe Fergie just needed a companion to relax her.

I answered an ad that read “Free horse to a good home.” Even though the free goats didn’t exactly work out, I was willing to try again with a horse. Forio (his real name) was an elderly horse who needed a retirement home. His current owners had enjoyed his company for all of his twenty-eight years. Forio had won dozens of ribbons at horse shows over the years and now he just needed a quiet place to rest. So they were willing to let us have him for a while with a couple conditions: He was not ours – we were only borrowing him, and nobody over one hundred pounds was allowed to ride him. Although Forio was no longer suited for the hard trail rides, he was quite willing to let my five year old son sit on his back and play cowboy.

Fergie and Forio hit it off immediately. Fergie liked to boss Forio around and he was quite willing to let her. She would gobble the grain out of her feed bucket first and then push him away so she could eat his grain as well. Where Forio was like an old dog that would lay quietly at my feet, Fergie was like a temperamental cat that would scratch (or kick) me if I got too close.

I made that mistake only once. I had a nightly practice of putting the sheep inside the barn to avoid providing food for the coyotes. One particular evening Fergie had adopted the sheep as her own. She refused to let me near them by positioning her self between me and the sheep. I, being a slow learner, kept at it until I heard the distinctive sound of a hoof whizzing past my ear. I wisely stopped to consider the situation. I walked to the barn and grabbed a bucket of grain to distract her. I also put on a football helmet with a full face mask. Who did she think she was dealing with – an old dog?

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